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EGYPTS MOST FAMED SNAKE-CHARMER
He was no more than about forty-eight, I judged, although his face and forehead were somewhat lined. A bristling stubble of a week's growth of hair on his chin, a ragged untrimmed moustache and a bulbous nose were what I noticed first; but the eyes, which were heavy-lidded and slightly watery, made no particular impression on me. The expression around his mouth was good-tempered and pleasant. He was obviously a simple, unintellectual man, with simple tastes, however expert he might be in his own peculiar profession.
Two large silver rings adorned his right hand, and two more his left. I knew, from the inscriptions engraved upon them, that he wore three of them for some mysterious protective power he believed they carried. While the fourth was a seal-ring, engraved with his name and an expression of trust in Allah. I was aware that, as Muhammed disapproved of gold, his devout followers often favoured silver rings even when they could afford gold.
Tea over, we set to work. Moussa offered to catch a snake in any spot I chose, so that it should not be said that he had previously hidden it in a prepared place. He added that he did not mind where I took him to hunt.
I selected a large garden belonging to a rambling old house, which had been disused for a dozen years or more in consequence of a wrangle among relatives as to who was the real heir to this once desirable property. Since the death of its owner it had stood untenanted, the while numerous claimants paid lawyers and attended courts in an effort to get what they probably had no right to. Meanwhile thieves had stolen all tae furniture, the roof and floors had been stripped, the cracked and dilapidated walls would probably fall to pieces, and by the time the wrangle ended there might well be no house to occupy. At any rate, I knew that the place would have long since been turned into a free, if unfurnished, hostel for snakes, scorpions, rats and other creatures less contentious than human beings. The garden stretched away to the River Nile and was as forsaken as a wilderness; it was in a ruinous enough condition to attract all the snakes in Luxor. Moussa appeared to be quite gratified with my choice, and so we all marched away to the scene of his coming exploits. The crowd of forty-odd tattered hangers-on got so stirred by the prospect that, as they too marched, they actually shouted once or twice, despite the enervating heat, the nearest Arabic equivalent to "Hurrah, Sheikh Moussa!"